A few days ago the European Union once again rejected Israel's
request to blacklist Hezbollah
as a terror group. The request was made in the aftermath of the suicide bombing
in Burgas, which left five Israelis dead and more than 30 injured, and due to growing concerns that Syria's chemical weapons may end up in the hands of the Lebanese Shiite organization.
The EU said it will not label Hezbollah a terror group at this time due in part to the fact that it is also a political party.
Hezbollah, which is recognized by the US as a terror organization, plays on two fields: It is a terror organization that is activated by Iran and carries out terror attacks, but it is also a political party in Lebanon. The European position that political activity protects organizations from being labeled as terror groups and that politicians cannot be terrorists is erroneous, legitimizes terror and may deal a fatal blow to moderate elements.
Democratic Europe, which is exposed to terror in its territory, must unequivocally determine that an organization cannot engage in terror and at the same time gain legitimacy as a political party. On the contrary, it should declare that denouncing terror is a prerequisite for participating in democratic elections and gaining legitimacy.
In the 1930s Europe - and particularly its Jews - learned the hard way that there must be conditions and limitations to participation in elections and that forces supporting violence cannot be allowed to increase their power through democracy. Those who do not accept the principles of democracy, should not be allowed use the system to advance their goals.
The basic democratic principle is sovereignty and the government's right to monopolize the use of arms. Hezbollah is an independent militia that receives weapons from Iran and Syria.
No democratic country would ever consider an armed militia to be a political party. These are the legislative guidelines Europe has instated to protect itself. In Spain, a party was forbidden from participating in elections due to its violent ways. This was also the case with Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland. Israel also banned a racist party from taking part in general elections. What's good for Europe must also apply to the violent region we live in. Otherwise, violence will spread across the globe.
These extremist organizations' desire to gain political influence offers an opportunity to force them to become more moderate and denounce terror. These groups will become more moderate only if the international community forces them to choose between violence and legitimate political power.
The issue is not merely theoretical or ideological. During my tenure as foreign minister and vice prime minister I sought to convince the international community to compel terror organizations to choose between politics and terror – before they entered the political sphere. The answer I received was: "Look at Hezbollah. It became more moderate as soon as it became a political player." A few weeks later, this theory was proven false when Hezbollah launched a cross border attack in Israeli territory, killed a soldier and kidnapped others.
The struggle between violent extremists and moderates in the region's countries is a zero sum game. When one side gets weaker, the other becomes stronger. We will not be able to advance any processes or embolden the pragmatists unless we are able to distinguish between the two sides.
Legitimizing a terror organization because it is involved in the political process will not make it more moderate. On the contrary, it will use violence and military force to impose its extremist worldview on the legitimate parties. Who can oppose a coalition partner that has its own army?
Moderates will triumph only if we will be able to distinguish between legitimate parties and terror groups and between pragmatists and violent extremists.
The road to legitimacy passes through the denouncement of terror.
Tzipi Livni is a former foreign minister and Kadima party chairwoman